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Swedish Viking
Swedish Viking

The Vikings

Merchants or robbers?

T he name "Viking" was first used by foreign authors in the 11th century AD. Its origin is probably the Swedish word for bay, "vik". This shows the close connection between the people and the sea, of which they were totally dependent for their livelihood. They had a mythology of their own. Their gods were called "asar", The Vikings are often considered wild, drunken, merciless robbers. In fact, their main occupation was farming and trade. The Viking expeditions were mostly trade expeditions that sometimes degenerated to looting. But to be honest, there were also expeditions whose main purpose was to loot foreign coastal regions.

The Swedish Vikings

T here is a distinction between "Swedish" and "Danish/Norwegian" Vikings. The Danish and Norwegian expeditions went westwards, concentrating on Western Europe and England. The Swedish, on the other hand, went mostly eastwards into modern-day Russia and further on to Byzantium and the Caliphate. Runestones and archaeological artefacts found in eastern Sweden and on the island of Gotland show that the trade exchange between eastern Sweden and the Near East was very intense at this time in history. These expeditions often started from trade centres like "Birka", situated on an island in Lake Mälaren, not far from modern-day Stockholm. The Vikings also settled in the Russian town of Novgorod, which they called "Holmgård". As time went by their influence on the economic and political life grew and became decisive. According to a chronicle written in the 12th century AD, the Swedish Vikings were the founders of Russia. Although this is not very likely, the influence of the Vikings is still visible. The name Russia for instance, probably originates from one of the names of the Swedish Vikings, "ruser".

The way towards a state

D uring the Viking period (circa 750-1060 AD) the Swedish state began to take form. At the beginning of the period the power structure in Scandinavia was built mainly on small chiefdoms, where small local chiefs ruled over a limited area, often not more far-reaching than a large farm or a village. These chiefdoms grew in some areas and became more extensive as time went by. In what was to become Sweden two "tribes" or local "nationalities", "Göter" and "Svear" became the most influential and formed two "states" with kings as leaders. Later in history these "states" merged and formed Sweden. Even today we talk about "Götaland" (the Land of Göter) and "Svealand" (the Land of Svear).

The Gods

A ccording to Nordic mythology the gods lived in "Asgård", the humans in "Midgård, and the giants in "Jotunheim". These places were situated in the world tree, the ash tree "Yggdrasil". The most important god was "Oden", the lord of gods and humans. After battles, he took the fallen Vikings to "Valhall" on his horse "Sleipner". Other gods were "Frö", the god of love and fertility and "Fröja", the goddess of love and fertility. The perhaps most famous among the gods is "Tor" the mightiest warrior of them all. He was the god of thunder and had a hammer called "Mjölner" which, like a boomerang, returned to his hand after he had thrown it.
Photo: Copyright ©Kamerareportage

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